Something new?

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C. S. Lewis

Are you facing something new in your life? A new relationship? Job? Baby? Class? Diagnosis? Neighborhood?

After Moses’ death, the Israelites were facing something new, too. They had been in the desert for 40 years and now were were camped on the eastern side of the Jordan River just waiting to cross and begin to claim the land God had promised. Joshua recognizes how scary this might be when he said, “you have not passed this way before.” (Joshua 3:4b)

There was a new leader to follow, a new river to cross, new land to take over, and new cultures to understand. So, God tells them, through Joshua, that he will show them the way. They just have to follow the priests who are carrying the Ark of the Covenant.

When we face something new in our lives, don’t we feel like that? We have left behind something familiar and comfortable. We haven’t done this thing before. How can we do it right? How can we succeed? Joshua’s message brings us comfort knowing that God realizes our fears. He knows we haven’t passed this way before, but he knows the way and tells us just to follow him.

And following God always brings the unexpected. The next thing the Israelites saw was the priests stepping into the Jordan River which was overflowing its banks. The rushing water stopped and the people were given a path through to the other side.

If we want a full life, we sometimes have to let go of the old path and turn to the new. God will lead us and may have a few surprises along the way. Just ask Joshua!

“You have made known to me the path of life.” – Psalm16:11a

Secret Believers

 “Oh, how great peace and quietness would he possess who should cut off all vain anxiety and place all his confidence in God.” – Thomas a’ Kempis

In some countries, Christians must be careful about sharing their faith with people they don’t know, and they often bond with other Christians and meet together secretly. Their lives may depend on staying under cover.

For most of us, though, we’re not in danger if we talk about God or claim to be a follower of Jesus. But still, many of us tend to keep our faith under wraps.

The Gospel of John tells us many Jews believed in Jesus after witnessing the raising of Lazarus. But they believed secretly because they were afraid they would be ostracized by the religious establishment. John saw through their motivation for secrecy. He said, “They loved human praise more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)

John’s implication is we can either please other humans or we can please God, and very often we can’t do both. Sometimes we have to be willing to be criticized or ridiculed if we’re going to be bold in living out our Christian faith.

Maybe we need to be more honest about who we are, more comfortable with letting our faith in Christ show, and more willing to speak the truth. Sometimes that may bring a negative response, but, if we share of ourselves with quiet confidence and grace, God will be pleased. Who do we want to please the most?

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” – 1 Peter 3:15b-16

What I Can’t Do for Myself

Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God,” – 2 Corinthians 3:5

If God loves us, has all the resources in the world at his disposal, and is almighty, we should be living lives of ease, right? Just ask and he will deliver what we need. Kind of like Amazon.

Yet, we know it doesn’t work that way. God invites us to tell him our needs, but he often asks us to participate in answering our own prayers and sometimes even our prayers for others. If we’re sick, we pray for healing, but we also see a doctor, take the medicine, and get rest. If we’re in financial need, we ask God for direction and help, but we also work with diligence and spend with discretion. And if we pray for a friend in need, we might also lend a hand.

God enables us, partners with us, and blesses our efforts. He knows that is better for us than simply giving us everything we ask for. Maybe our prayer should be more like this:

“Dear Lord, please do for me what I cannot do for myself.”

When we pray that way, we begin to realize there are some critically important things only God can do. Only he can direct our paths, protect us from the evil one, forgive our sins, and give rest to our souls. Every one of these things is foundational to our physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being and, try as we might, we cannot do them for ourselves.

Sometimes, though, when he thinks it best for us, he steps in to heal, provide, or give special wisdom. Only he knows when and how to intervene. That’s why we trust him.

“Our quitting point is God’s beginning point.” – Woodrow Kroll

Bold Prayers


Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

Do you pray wimpy prayers? Sometimes we all do. Prayers that are routine – people we want God to bless, safety for our children, good weather – you know the kind I mean. Not that these prayers are unimportant, but if that’s all we pray about, we’re missing something!

At least 1/3 of the psalms in the Bible are classified as laments. The writers are crying out to God asking him to wake up, to act, to strike enemies, to remember his people. These psalms are raw, honest, and bold. And God responds – in his own way and time.

So, what do you want to ask for? Do you need God’s comfort? Ask him. Or his forgiveness? He’s just waiting for you to ask. Who do you want God to chase after like the hound of heaven? Do you want to tell him about your frustration about unanswered prayers? Or talk to him about what’s making you sad or angry? Go ahead. Be confident. Pray as you’ve never dared pray before.

When we do that, we find out something: Praying boldly energizes us, fills us with strength. Confident prayers inspire faith, causing us to be on the lookout for answers we hadn’t had the courage to look for before. Bold prayers remind us that God is the only reliable source of our rescue or provision.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s start praying in a whole new way – with confidence and boldness. God wants to hear the honest cries of our hearts.

“He already cares about the things we pray about . . . He has simply been waiting for us to care about them with him.” – Philip Yancey

The wrong question?

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Should I buy a particular car? Should I change jobs? Should I get more education? If we’re not sure, we pray, asking for guidance as we make decisions. It’s OK to ask “Should I?” in cases like these. In fact, God invites and expects us to do so.

But, do you know there’s a question he might not want us to ask?

Think of the ancient Israelites. They escaped Egypt via God’s amazing miracles, were given the law, and were led to the very border of the land God had promised to give them.

That’s where they hesitated. Instead of making plans for crossing the Jordan River and moving into the land, they stopped, deciding to send in spies before they went further. You may remember that twelve spies went into the land. Ten came back describing the amazing produce they found, but, having seen giants, they said, in essence, “We can’t take them. We’re doomed!”

Two of the spies presented a contrary report saying, again paraphrased, “Yep. They’re big. But this is the land God promised us and, with his help, we can do this.”

Do you see the difference? We are always to ask “Should I?” when we seek God’s guidance about decisions we have to make, but we shouldn’t have to ask “Can I?” if God has called us to action. If God has directed you, of course you can! He will never let you down when you follow his plan.

The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith, and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” – George Mueller

Why, God?

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” – Psalm 34:18

In the year 2000, a small group of devoted monks moved from the relative comfort of their lives to Norcia, Italy to re-establish the monastery founded there long ago by St. Benedict. Their sole purpose was to love and serve God through the solitude and simplicity of the ancient monastic life.

Then in October of 2016, the Basilica of St. Benedict, built in the 14th century as the center of this monastery’s worship, collapsed in an earthquake. It was a shocking tragedy. The monks couldn’t help wondering how God could allow the destruction of this cathedral when it was built by, and then used for centuries by, those who loved him sacrificially.

They mourned the loss of this great place of worship, but soon all their spiritual training kicked in, and they began to make plans for starting over. One writer described their reaction as “receiv(ing) this catastrophe as a call for deeper holiness and sacrifice.”*

Is that how we respond to crises in our lives? As a “call for deeper holiness and sacrifice?” Not usually. More often our response is “Why, God?” I think it’s OK to ask, but if the answer doesn’t come (and often it doesn’t – at least not right away), we need to accept what has happened and move closer to God as we pick up the pieces.

One of the monks said, “These are mysteries which will take years – not days or months – to understand.”*

Do you have an unanswered “why?” in your life? Let’s not let God’s silence stop us from answering his call to deeper holiness. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it!

“Joy is not necessarily the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.” – Sam Storm

*Both quotes are cited in The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (Sentinel Books: New York, New York), 2017, p. 243

Disease

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.” – Malachi 4:2

We have treatments for many illnesses these days: medicines, pain killers, physical therapy, even surgeries when the simple fixes don’t work. Then there are things that aren’t so easy to treat: cancer, psychological disorders, or even epidemic viruses that come suddenly on the scene.

For some in this world it seems nearly everything is untreatable. In less-developed countries, many people don’t even have aspirin, the nearest doctor may be miles away, and getting there is on foot. What to do when disease strikes and there is no treatment, no cure?

The crowds following Jesus in Bible times were in similar circumstances. They sought him out because they were sick or disabled and had no hope but him. When they pleaded for help, he responded with compassion, and they were made whole.

Some of us need that kind of healing in our lives today, don’t we? The kind for which there is no ready cure. Our needs might relate to our bodies, but often to our minds or emotions as well.

Most of us have some kind of dis-ease we face every day. What do we do? If there’s a treatment we can get from a doctor or a counselor, we need to do so. But sometimes what we are dealing with is something only God can heal.

If Jesus were here, we’d go to him just as the crowds did centuries ago.

Remember, he’s still here.

He’s still loving.

He invites us to bring our dis-ease to him. Let’s be as bold as those early followers and ask him to intervene today.

“The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and the acceptance of love.” – Marianne Williamson

Sailing or Drifting?

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” – Hebrews 2:1

Years ago, I had a friend, Phyllis, who owned a small sailboat, and we shared some sunny afternoons on that boat, sailing across Spring Lake and back.

When we pushed out, Phyllis would choose a spot across the lake and set her sail toward that point, making corrections along the way to keep us on course. Working with the wind to move us in the right direction required constant attention. But we always reached our destination and always returned to our home port safely, and usually dry!

There is a spiritual truth here. Generally, we don’t turn around and sail away from God. Instead, we drift away. One day we wake up and realize how far we are from him. What can we do?

Be intentional: Phyllis always had her eye on the shore, skillfully keeping us on course. Spiritually, we need to keep God always in focus, adjusting our activities, decisions, and relationships to be constantly moving toward him. It won’t just happen. We have to work at it.

Pay attention: If we ever take our attention off the rudder or the sail, we drift and the results can be disastrous. We must not let distractions interfere with our goal.

If we have drifted away from God, let’s get back on course. We can place him in our mind’s eye and keep him there. Then we pay attention by filling our mind with the important and by not being distracted by the inconsequential. Set the sail and stay on course. He’s worth it!

“You either line yourself up with the Son of God . . .or you capitulate to the principle which governs the rest of the world.”– Elisabeth Elliott

Surrender

“Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds you abased and empty, His glory and power flow in.” – Andrew Murray

Most of us don’t like the word surrender. It sounds like giving up, giving in, letting someone else take over our lives. It sounds like an unhappy ending to a long war. And it sounds risky. Actually surrender can be all those things.

When we look at it spiritually, though, we realize surrender to God isn’t defeat, it’s voluntarily giving control of everything to him. And it’s not risky. Yielding to him is the safest thing we can do!

And there are rewards: “It is wonderful what miracles God works in wills that are utterly surrendered to Him. He turns hard things into easy and bitter things into sweet.” (Hannah Whitall Smith).

Have you ever surrendered everything to God? Holding nothing back? If not, today may be the day to do that. Then I’ve found I need to re-surrender on occasion because the me in me creeps back in to take back control from God. Here’s my prayer of surrender for today, maybe it can be yours, too:

Dear God,

I surrender my body to you – its health, shape, aches, its need for protection, and its power.

I surrender my heart to you – its wounds, desires, regrets, and hopes.

I surrender my mind to you – its learning, meditations, its every thought.

I surrender my spirit to you – gladly, joyfully, for its keeping for all of eternity.

My whole self, Lord. Nothing kept back, no place you can’t enter – without reservation, without restriction – forever.

Amen

“. . . offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.-“ Romans 6:13b

Confused? Frustrated?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

If you feel challenged and confused these days, you’re not alone! Many are mourning the absence of life as they knew it and are wondering how things will change when everything settles down. What will the new normal look like?

After Jesus’ crucifixion, his disciples struggled with some of those same challenges. They’d believed Jesus was the Messiah. They’d followed and trusted him over several years, and now he was dead. They couldn’t imagine what their new normal would look like.

On the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two disciples were walking toward the town of Emmaus when a third man joined them on the journey. Luke tells us that their faces were “downcast”. Their new companion listened as they told him about the events over the past three days – Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and their crushed hopes. And now, some were telling of an empty tomb, and that confused the situation all the more.

Don’t you love that Jesus. though unrecognized, was with them right then in their confusion and pain? Through Scripture, he began to make everything clear. And, when they sat down for a meal, he prayed and broke bread and at that moment they recognized it was Jesus who had been with them all along! He listened to their problems, taught them from Scripture, and revealed himself to them – alive!

Jesus is here in our confusion, too, and his mode is still to listen, teach, and reveal. Don’t you think we can trust that he will help make sense of whatever we are going through? I do!

“All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” – Julian of Norwich